Health

New NHS cancer drugs fund approved

Drugs Image copyright Thinkstock

Cancer patients have been promised faster access to innovative medicines by NHS England.

It has announced changes to the heavily criticised and regularly overspent Cancer Drugs Fund, which pays for drugs the NHS has deemed unaffordable.

The new system will start in July 2016 and have a fixed budget of £340m.

No patients receiving drugs on the old Cancer Drugs Fund will have their medication stopped.

At present, the CDF can choose to pay for innovative drugs the health watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has rejected for widespread use on the NHS.

But under the new system, NICE will make all the decisions.

By the time a drug comes on to the market, NICE will give it a yes, no or maybe rating.

Those given the go-ahead will be routinely offered across the NHS while those given a maybe rating can be considered for the CDF.

However, there will be "clear entry and exit criteria" to ensure money is spent on only the best breakthrough drugs.

'Clarity'

Bruce Keogh, medical director at NHS England, said: "Improving cancer care is an absolute priority for NHS England... that is dependent on access to treatments.

"[The CDF] will provide faster access for patients, I think that's really important, and I think it will bring clarity to which drugs are the most effective sooner than we know at the moment."

The fund, which was established in 2011 and covers England, has seen its costs rise to £340m in 2015-16 from an initial annual budget of £200m.

An NHS official said: "Drug companies will need to price their drugs responsibly, and we make no apology for maintaining the pressure on this point on behalf of the public.

"Companies keen to work with the NHS for patients will get a new fast-track route to NHS funding for promising new drugs, backed by a speeded up and more transparent NICE assessment process."

Dr Paul Catchpole, from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: "If cancer medicines go through more or less exactly the same NICE appraisal process that was in place five years ago - which necessitated the setting up of the CDF in the first place - we will largely get the same answers as before - the majority of medicines will be turned down.

"Without substantial changes the ABPI estimates that under the proposals two thirds of existing CDF medicines are likely to no longer be available to NHS patients by the end of the year."

Target Ovarian Cancer chief executive Annwen Jones said: "Important questions remain unanswered with this proposal.

"The Cancer Drugs Fund must retain the power to make a real difference to people's lives in the face of budget cuts."

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